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Cyrus, Servant Of The Lord
by [?]

Cyrus, Servant of the Lord {4}

FOOTNOTE: {4} This lecture was given in America in 1874.

I wish to speak to you to-night about one of those old despotic empires which were in every case the earliest known form of civilisation. Were I minded to play the cynic or the mountebank, I should choose some corrupt and effete despotism, already grown weak and ridiculous by its decay–as did at last the Roman and then the Byzantine Empire–and, after raising a laugh at the expense of the old system say: See what a superior people you are now–how impossible, under free and enlightened institutions, is anything so base and so absurd as went on, even in despotic France before the Revolution of 1793. Well, that would be on the whole true, thank God; but what need is there to say it?

Let us keep our scorn for our own weaknesses, our blame for our own sins, certain that we shall gain more instruction, though not more amusement, by hunting out the good which is in anything than by hunting out its evil. I have chosen, not the worst, but the best despotism which I could find in history, founded and ruled by a truly heroic personage, one whose name has become a proverb and a legend, that so I might lift up your minds, even by the contemplation of an old Eastern empire, to see that it, too, could be a work and ordinance of God, and its hero the servant of the Lord. For we are almost bound to call Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, by this august title for two reasons–First, because the Hebrew Scriptures call him so; the next, because he proved himself to be such by his actions and their consequences–at least in the eyes of those who believe, as I do, in a far-seeing and far-reaching Providence, by which all human history is

Bound by gold chains unto the throne of God.

His work was very different from any that need be done, or can be done, in these our days. But while we thank God that such work is now as unnecessary as impossible; we may thank God likewise that, when such work was necessary and possible, a man was raised up to do it: and to do it, as all accounts assert, better, perhaps, than it had ever been done before or since.

True, the old conquerors, who absorbed nation after nation, tribe after tribe, and founded empires on their ruins, are now, I trust, about to be replaced, throughout the world, as here and in Britain at home, by free self-governed peoples:

The old order changeth, giving place to the new;
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

And that custom of conquest and empire and transplantation did more than once corrupt the world. And yet in it, too, God may have more than once fulfilled His own designs, as He did, if Scripture is to be believed, in Cyrus, well surnamed the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire some 2400 years ago. For these empires, it must be remembered, did at least that which the Roman Empire did among a scattered number of savage tribes, or separate little races, hating and murdering each other, speaking different tongues, and worshipping different gods, and losing utterly the sense of a common humanity, till they looked on the people who dwelt in the next valley as fiends, to be sacrificed, if caught, to their own fiends at home. Among such as these, empires did introduce order, law, common speech, common interest, the notion of nationality and humanity. They, as it were, hammered together the fragments of the human race till they had moulded them into one. They did it cruelly, clumsily, ill: but was there ever work done on earth, however noble, which was not–alas, alas!–done somewhat ill?